"Get in front of it." People say that a lot lately. But when it comes to conflict, that may be easier said than done. Yet, it's important for conflict resolution.
You want to keep conflict from growing and requiring more complex conflict resolution efforts. You need to nip it in the bud. That means recognizing the presence or possibility of it as early as possible and taking fast, effective action in response.
One thing you need, then, is to be able to recognize the early warnings. You have to be skilled in observing subtle nonverbal communication and other listening skills. It's your earliest and most accurate information.
You also have to know what to do once you recognize it. You don't want to hit the brakes or stall after you get in front of it. In other words, you need a plan.
I used to really dislike the idea of systems and plans, but they do have a few things going for them. They can reduce decision fatigue and improve consistency. And when it comes to conflict, they can also reduce stress, increase confidence, and improve results...provided they allow for flexibility.
Did that last statement seem contradictory? A conversation framework and conflict style can have some give. It's like being able to drive around a pedestrian on a wider road without having to change lanes.
The plan goes beyond knowing how to lead conversations and respond to arguments. It also includes knowing where you want to end up and what you need to establish in order to get it. That makes sense when it comes to making a case in court - it's like establishing the elements, right? But court isn't the only time you can benefit from preparation like that - It's important in all conversations, including client communication, communicating with opposing counsel, staff, and more.
And as important as it is for you to prepare yourself for those conversations, it's equally, if not more, important to prepare your clients. Since they may not engage in the difficult conversations as often as you do, they may benefit from a little support. Before you can do that, though, first you have to establish a system.